“White British” is an ethnicity and a racial identity. This is often either overlooked- because in the UK, white people are the majority, whiteness is seen as the norm. Therefore because race and ethnicity is always the “other”, whiteness is ignored. However, whiteness is not homogeneous. Gender, sexuality, social class, religious belief or non-belief, politics and region of Britain can all inform self-identity.
In Black Looks: Race and Representation African-American feminist writer bel hooks narrates a discussion with white students, where they were shocked to discover that not only do Black people view whites as dangerous and threatening, but that they have an opinion at all about whiteness.
It is I think no coincidence that in an era where white middle class liberals would be rightly castigated for using racist language and stereotypical tropes against minority ethnic people, that language and stereotyping is now being used against white working class people with impunity. Upper middle class comedians such as Simon Brodkin in his Lee Nelson persona can mock young white working class people while they would never adopt blackface. The language used against “chavs” is frequently the same as that formerly employed against British Afro-Caribbean people- lazy, violent, criminal, promiscuous, overly-fertile.
So what does this have to do with children’s literature? Well, books for children are not an ideology-free zone. Writers, agents, publicists, bookshop buyers, customers, librarians, teachers and parents all bring their own opinions and prejudices to the texts that they select for children. Thankfully the lack of positive representations of diversity in children’s books is being recognised; it is my hope that this will extend to white working class children.